Jays thriving in spoiler role vs. Sox

Jays thriving in spoiler role vs. Sox

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays aren't making life easy for anyone back in Boston. In fact, the members of Red Sox Nation probably feel downright miserable after witnessing Toronto embrace the spoiler tag over the past two days.

On Tuesday night, the Blue Jays took advantage of a dominant outing by A.J. Burnett and a late-inning meltdown by Red Sox reliever Eric Gagne to escape with a 4-3 victory at Rogers Centre. While Toronto simply chips away at its remaining schedule, Boston has seen its path to the postseason hit a nerve-racking snag.

"When you get down to these late games, you don't want anybody celebrating on your field," Toronto's Matt Stairs said. "People ask if it's hard to get ready for these games in September when you're out of it.

"No, it's still a professional game and you still have a job to try to knock guys out and knock guys out of contention."

The main objective down the stretch for the Blue Jays (76-75) is to finish their lost season above the break-even mark. Meanwhile, the Red Sox (90-62) are attempting to close things out by dethroning the Yankees in the American League East and finishing with the league's best record.

With a victory on Tuesday, Toronto took another step toward their goal and pushed the Boston faithful a little closer to panic mode in the process. Thanks to New York's 12-0 win over Baltimore, the Red Sox lead the Yankees in the AL East by just 2 1/2 games -- Boston's slimmest margin since April 25.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons shook off the notion that his club has enjoyed making the Red Sox squirm a little with two wins to open the current series.

"We're not looking at that," Gibbons said. "We're looking to finish strong and we want to play some good ballgames -- win as many as we can. That's what we're shooting for, regardless of who you're playing.

"But, there's no question that, this time of year, when you're playing the top teams, and you're out of it, that brings some incentive."

After being handcuffed by Red Sox starter Jon Lester for 6 2/3 innings, the Jays appeared to be well on their way to a loss. In the eighth inning, though, the game took a drastic turn in Toronto's favor. Clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Red Sox turned to Gagne, who quickly retired the first two Jays hitters he faced to open the frame.

That's when things began to unravel for Gagne.

Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas drew a five-pitch walk and second baseman Aaron Hill followed with a single to left field off Gagne, who began having major command issues. Stairs stepped into the batter's box and stared at four straight balls to draw another walk, loading the bases.

Gagne opened the next at-bat by throwing three consecutive balls to Jays catcher Gregg Zaun, who flipped his bat and jogged to first base after earning a free pass two pitches later. That knotted the score, 2-2, and convinced Gibbins to call Russ Adams off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

"Watching the previous at-bats helped me with my approach," Adams said. "In a pinch-hitting situation, a lot of times you want to try to be aggressive, especially with runners in scoring position. But, the way it kind of shook out tonight, I told myself to be patient."

Adams worked into a 3-2 count before drilling Gagne's 32nd offering of the inning deep to right field. Boston's J.D. Drew nearly tracked down the ball, but it sailed just over his outstretched glove, allowing two runs to score to put the Blue Jays ahead, 4-2.

"It's nice to get that big hit," said Burnett, who struck out 11 in the win. "I went nuts in the dugout -- maybe a little too much. It was a little crazy. But, whether we're in it or out of it, these guys don't give up. That's one positive thing about this team."

With the win in sight, Burnett (9-7) headed back to the mound in the ninth inning -- only to yield a solo home run to Julio Lugo with two outs. With that, Gibbons turned the game over to left-hander Scott Downs, who promptly froze rookie Jacoby Ellsbury with a 2-2 breaking ball for the game-ending strikeout.

That sealed the victory for Burnett, who improved to 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA in eight starts since being activated from the disabled list. The right-hander has logged at least eight innings over his past three outings and at least seven in each of his last six trips to the mound.

Burnett also enjoyed pushing Boston's panic button.

"Without question," he said. "Even though you're out of it, you have to play ball and spoil some teams."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.